Savings to be shared by more than 8,400 students enrolled across the university

EDITOR’S NOTE: ATTENTION EDUCATION, GOVERNMENT, NEWS, FEATURES (undergraduate experience librarian Lily Todorinova is available for interviews, contact to arrange)  

Students at Rutgers University received welcome news this spring. More than 32 classes have switched over to low-cost or no-cost textbook solutions as part of the university’s Open and Affordable Textbooks (OAT) Project, with a projected savings of $1,597,444 over the next year.

In 2016, President Robert Barchi asked the Libraries to pilot the OAT Project to address soaring textbook costs and to introduce more affordable materials into the classroom. The original plan was to provide 12 grants to faculty to incorporate low-cost course materials into their classes. Thanks to higher than expected faculty interest, the Libraries quickly expanded the pilot program to 32 grants, impacting courses across the university in fields ranging from psychiatry, sociology, and public affairs to English, business and physics.

These savings will be shared by more than 8,400 students enrolled in courses at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Rutgers University-Camden, Rutgers University-Newark, and Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Petros Levounis, front row/left, plans to use his grant to publish an affordable textbook for students completing his third-year psychiatry clerkship. Savings to his students? $64,000
Photo: Jose Medina

Lily Todorinova, OAT project coordinator and undergraduate experience librarian, believes the decision to expand the program was clearly the right one judging from the quality and number of proposals that were submitted.

“We were deeply impressed by the diversity and innovation of the submissions. We have faculty writing their own textbooks and even others who are involving their students in the process of redesigning the course materials, which is so important to student learning,” said Todorinova. “Not only will these 32 projects save students close to $1.6 million in the course of the year – and more going forward – but they also show the high level of investment by our faculty in the open and affordable education movement at Rutgers.”

Petros Levounis, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at New Jersey Medical School, received a grant to work with students to develop new course materials for the third-year psychiatry clerkship. Participants in the course will develop case studies and multiple choice questions based on real-world experience with psychiatric patients. Their submissions will be reviewed by residents and attending physicians for accuracy and quality, before being presented to their peers for further evaluation from scientific and educational perspectives. The case studies will eventually be collected in a self-published book with a price tag under $5.

Levounis credits his participation in the OAT Project to good timing. When the invitation to submit a grant proposal arrived, it fit well with his plans to develop low-cost course materials for clerkship. He knows firsthand that the benefits extend beyond the cost-savings, having previously worked with psychiatry residents to develop the handbook, Mastering the New Psychiatric Diagnoses: Three Practice Exams for Novices and Experts.

“Instead of $150 worth of textbooks, we can reduce the cost to under $5 and make it more interactive,” says Levounis. “This process benefits both the students who are researching the case studies and the students who will use the textbook in the future. The student-authors learn more because they are actively involved, rather than passively reading books or going to lectures. And the presentation of information from medical student to medical student is a unique strength of this project. Our students have their finger on the pulse of what is needed to be successful in taking certification and course exams and will share their insights in the textbook.”

For students, being part of this publishing project is also a point of pride, as well as a first step toward making school a bit more affordable. Each student is acknowledged in the textbook and once the textbook is complete, the projected savings for Levounis’s annual enrollment of approximately 200 students will be $64,000.

The OAT Project is a collaboration among Rutgers University Libraries, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) and the Office of Information Technology to address sky-rocketing textbook costs.

Rutgers University Libraries hopes to build on the momentum of the OAT Project to bring more savings to students according to Krisellen Maloney, vice president for information services and university librarian at Rutgers University.

“The Libraries are committed to doing everything we can to improve the well-being and education of our students,” said Maloney. “We look forward to finding additional opportunities to lower textbook costs without sacrificing the rigorous academic standards our students expect of their classroom experience and education at Rutgers.”

For more information about the OAT Project, please visit For a complete list of grant recipients, visit

Rutgers University Libraries support and enrich the instructional, research, and public service missions of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey through the stewardship of scholarly information and the delivery of information services. With more than five million volumes and thousands of digital resources located in 26 libraries, centers, and reading rooms in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden, Rutgers University Libraries rank among the nation’s top research libraries.